GALLERY: ‘You have more influence than you realize,’ award-winning prof tells Brock grads

Sometimes, all it takes is an hour.

During her first year as a university physical education major, Maureen Connolly had an instructor spare an extra 60 minutes to help her overcome a task she was struggling with: learning to swim.

That extra time, spent with the aptly named Joe Lake following her “pre-beginner” lessons at the YMCA, helped to shape Connolly’s outlook on teaching and set the course for her future.

Now a Professor of Physical Education and Kinesiology at Brock, Connolly shared the story of the pivotal moment in her past with the University’s newest graduates while delivering the morning address at Brock’s 114th Convocation on Friday, Oct. 13.

Connolly, this year’s Faculty of Applied Health Sciences Excellence in Teaching Award recipient, spoke about how that swim lesson so many years ago gave her the confidence to not only excel in the water, but also in the classroom.

She would go on to take her grad school assistantship in advanced aquatics, teach hundreds of children and adults how to swim, and even twice save a life — all because Lake, committed to her success, took the time to care.

“One hour of Joe Lake’s life changed my life,” Connolly said. “What is my unspoken fear? Not giving that hour. Being too busy with ‘more important things.’ Not recognizing the depths or the fears in others. This is my fear, my fuel and my muse. It is what animates my hope.”

She urged graduates to consider their potential impact as they head out into the world.

“Please think about a teacher who made a difference in your life. Whether you plan to be a teacher or a different kind of practitioner, please reflect on how your actions will affect others,” she said. “You have more influence than you realize.”

While the morning Convocation address focused on the difference a few critical minutes can make, the afternoon address, delivered by James Allard, celebrated the years of hard work that led students to their graduation day.

“Whether you finished at the top of your class or by the skin of your teeth, whether it was what might be considered on time or a little later than you planned, whether you ended in the program and with the degree in which you started, you did it,” said the Associate Dean, Undergraduate Student Affairs and Curriculum in the Faculty of Humanities. “Whatever the journey may have been like for you, you did it. You started something — something difficult and meaningful and wonderful and scary. You started it and you finished it.”

Allard asked the graduates to deliberately take pause before leaving the ceremony, taking in the experience and “savouring the satisfaction of having done something extraordinary.”

Friday’s celebration saw nearly 1,000 Brock University students achieve their goal of receiving their degree. Several were also honoured with awards.

Mohammed Abbas, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences in June, and Daniel Belanger, who also graduated this spring with a Bachelor of Arts in Classics with a specialization in Greek and Roman Studies, were honoured with the Governor General’s Silver Medals, presented to the two undergraduate students with the highest academic average of the class of 2023.

Also recognized were Bachelor of Recreation and Leisure Studies graduate Ashley Giroux and Master of Arts in Social Justice and Equity Studies graduate Raadhiyah Zowmi (BSc ’21), who were each presented with the Board of Trustees Spirit of Brock medal.

Both Fall Convocation ceremonies are available to watch on the Brock University YouTube channel.

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